Many of us look up to athletes as the pinnacle of human achievement. I’d argue that your typical astronaut might make a better candidate: They’re honed across disciplines–both physically and mentally–as PhD-wielding daredevils that represent every piece of training we can stuff into a human body.
But they have limits. We can’t possibly expect someone to fly a shuttle, understand astrophysics and, oh, become skilled surgeons. But that’s exactly what we need. Astronauts, especially as they venture deeper into space, will need to be autonomous experts in everything.
CAMDASS (Computer Assisted Medical Diagnosis and Surgery System) is a prototype by the European Space Agency, and it’s the first step in creating a tool that could make any layperson into a medical professional. The system tracks a patient’s body through IR (much like a Kinect works) Meanwhile, the user wears a stereo head-mounted display, and augmented reality software overlays specific instructions onto the patient.
Right now, CAMDASS is designed to work with ultrasound machines, which, if handled properly, can be a useful, noninvasive diagnostic tool for astronauts on the ISS. But it could do more. “A conceptual simulator to extend CAMDASS towards training and surgical procedures (on a dummy) has been designed in the frame of the project,” ESA engineer Arnaud Runge tells Co.Design. Though he’s quick to point out the limitations of augmented reality tech in the face of flat-out experience. “10 years are usually required to become a surgeon apprentice and several more years to gather additional experience. CAMDASS could definitively be a very good surgical assistant but could not change on the spot a layman into a skilled surgeon.”
However, Runge does believe that CAMDASS would be well-suited for more superficial surgeries, like biopsies. And rather than use only in space, it could be very useful if commercialized for telemedicine in remote areas of the earth like Antarctica and the “medical deserts” we find in areas like developing countries.
All of this said, how long do you think it will be before an iPhone app, using intelligent image mapping and a networked database, could duplicate 90% of CAMDASS’s functionality? That’s no slight to the ESA’s project. Rather, I think it shows the potential of augmented reality in making us temporary insta-experts in anything, much like Wikipedia does today.
[Hat tip: PopTech]